When I learned that I was to become the Technique editor-in-chief, my first thought was, “I hope this isn’t going to be a total dumpster fire.”
To be fair, the job is mostly putting out small fires — managing a staff of 50, operating with the looming threat of getting the budget slashed to oblivion, dealing with the random problems that pop up like whack-a-mole set to fast forward. My constant companions, aside from sleep deprivation and memes posted in the staff Slack, were the ever-present nagging thoughts that I had no idea what I was doing and how unqualified I was to be in this position.
Most students at Tech, regardless of their involvements and backgrounds, have felt something similar at one point or another: We just are not enough. Not smart enough to get A’s. Not competent enough to balance classes. Not experienced enough to land internships and jobs. Not involved enough in commitments or connected enough to friends or [insert here] enough feel worthy as a person.
Tech, even with the steps taken to improve student mental health in the last decade, will mess with your concept of self. Freshman year is a transition from top of the class to top of the bell curve, with high school valedictorians and gifted students seeing a drop in grades and self-esteem. People who barely had to study find themselves scrambling to pull off a C. By sophomore year the biggest improvement you might see are your coping mechanisms.
There is even a psychological term for it: Imposter syndrome. Individuals with imposter syndrome tend to be high-achieving but feel like they do not deserve their success because everyone around them is as accomplished. Personal issues at Tech range from caffeine addiction to severe mental health struggles, but at some point every student will feel like an imposter, like they are a fraud surrounded by more qualified people doing better than they are at every turn.
The feeling worsens around finals season when exams lurk further down the calendar and adding some 5-hour Energy to your coffee actually seems like a good idea. Here at the Technique, we have a tradition of graduating staff members publishing editorial “swan songs” in the last issue of the year, and as I am blowing this popsicle stand come May 5, here are a couple ways of handling Not Being Enough, gleaned from four years of trying not to be a total dumpster fire.
First, reframe your competition. You have too many peers with their own unique neuroses and talents find consistent comparisons. How am I supposed to compare my test grades with my classmate, who I saw five Jell-O shots deep at a party last weekend? We all do not have the same strengths.
Second, the real proof of improvement is how well you have bested your past selves. College me got a C in Calc, but high school me would not even have passed. Elementary school me would have answered exams in crayon. Infant me would have soiled myself. Despite pitfalls at Tech, the average trends upward in the long haul.
Speaking of which, being an average Tech student skews your view of what is average. Sometimes it will take staying Facebook friends with people you went to high school with and seeing that they are now selling Herbalife to realize it. You are part of a 25 percent acceptance rate, which would not be easy to do if you were of only average intelligence.
Finally, and most importantly, the best fix can be other people. I would not have lasted as editor without the Technique staff, from the enthusiastic writers to the edgelord design editor to the full-time Tech employees to the cynical managing editor who gives me rides back to my apartment at three in the morning.
The most effective cure for feeling like you don’t belong is finding a group with common interests and letting those shared interests deepen into friendships. I initially joined the Technique to do graphics, and four years later my picture is on the Wall of Shame in the office with everyone else’s embarrassing middle school photos. One highlight of my junior year was when the now-managing editor admitted to me that I grew on him. I can tell even now that when I look back at my time at Tech, the people I shared late nights with are those I will remember more than the reason we racked up those late nights.
Imposter syndrome will tell you a lack of skill or worthiness is what stands in your way, when really it is a lack of perspective, which you can tweak by rephrasing the problem. It’s not “I am not enough,” because you already are — it’s “I know I will be better,” because that will take you where you want to be.